My Blog

Posts for: August, 2011

By Drake Tollefson DDS
August 28, 2011
Category: Oral Health
Tags: tooth decay   oral health   chewing gum  

Can chewing gum prevent cavities? Yes! It can if the gum is sweetened with xylitol.

What is xylitol?
Xylitol is a type of “sugar alcohol,” similar to sorbitol and mannitol, sugar replacements that are used in many low calorie foods. Xylitol occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables and is obtained from the bark of birch trees, coconut shells and cottonseed hulls. It looks and tastes like sugar and is a diabetic-safe, low-calorie carbohydrate.

How does xylitol stop cavity formation?
Decay starts when certain bacteria break down sucrose (regular table sugar) and produce acids that dissolve the minerals in the enamel, the outer protective layer of your teeth. When the decay-causing bacteria try to consume xylitol, they are unable to break it down, and instead they begin to starve.

A normal mouth contains a large population of bacteria, and it is better for your teeth to have more “good” bacteria of the kind that do not cause cavities. Xylitol also stops your saliva from becoming acidic, so your mouth becomes a better environment for the “good” bacteria.

Chewing xylitol gum also increases your flow of saliva. Saliva contains calcium and fluoride and helps give these minerals back to your teeth (re-mineralization), undoing some of the effects of the cavity-causing bacteria. This makes chewing xylitol gum a particularly good solution for people who suffer from dry mouth.

How much xylitol do you need to prevent cavities?
We recommend that you chew or suck on two pieces of xylitol gum or two pieces of xylitol candy for five minutes following meals or snacks, four times daily — if you are at moderate to extreme risk for cavities. The target dose of xylitol is 6 to 10 grams (one or two teaspoons) spread throughout the day. Prolonged gum chewing is not advised, so most xylitol-sweetened products contain flavor that only lasts a short time to discourage excessive chewing. The only side effect of too much xylitol ingestion is that it may have a mild laxative effect.

I don't like chewing gum. Is there another way to get xylitol?
People who don't like to chew gum have the option of using xylitol in mints, candies, mouthwash, toothpaste, or mouth sprays. For these individuals, a minimum dose is 5 to 6 grams (one teaspoon) three times per day.

So now you can add xylitol to the list of ways to fight cavities: daily brushing and flossing, and regular professional cleanings — and chewing xylitol gum.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about xylitol and other methods of preventing tooth decay. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Xylitol in Chewing Gum.”


By Drake Tollefson DDS
August 21, 2011
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  

Your car comes with a maintenance manual that tells you when to get an oil change, rotate the tires, and perform other necessary tasks. By following the manual's directions you can keep your car running in good condition for many years. Too bad a manual doesn't come with your teeth and gums!

Such a manual would concentrate on a few basic tasks we call oral hygiene and teeth cleanings. Both tasks are mainly dedicated to removing dental plaque or biofilm from the surfaces of your teeth and the surrounding gums. Plaque is now referred to as a biofilm, a film composed of bacteria, that naturally forms in your mouth. Studies have shown that dental plaque causes periodontal disease (gum disease) and dental caries (tooth decay).

Tips for Daily Removal of Dental Plaque
The way you hold your toothbrush is crucial to your ability to remove plaque effectively. We recommend that you hold it in your fingertips as you would a pen or pencil. Use small motions and pressure. Brushing too hard can damage gum tissues. Use a soft bristled brush, hold it at about a 45 degree angle to the gum line and then use a gentle scrubbing motion. Studies have shown some electric toothbrushes to be more efficient at plaque removal than hand-held brushes; but in general how you use the brush is more important than what kind of brush it is.

To remove plaque deposits from the hard-to-reach areas between your teeth, floss at least once a day. Wrap the floss around each tooth surface and gently move it up and down for a few strokes, cleaning the sides of your teeth where they face each other.

You can use an antibacterial mouthrinse to get help reduce the bacterial plaque or biofilm that you missed in brushing and flossing.

The best way to make sure you are brushing correctly is to have a dental professional demonstrate for you. We would be happy to demonstrate the correct techniques in your own mouth so that you can see how it feels, and you can copy the methods we use.

Professional Maintenance Schedule
Your car needs to go into the shop from time to time for professional maintenance. Your teeth also need a regular schedule of maintenance from a professional dentist or hygienist. Over time, plaque that you do not manage to clean off your teeth accumulates and forms hard deposits called calculus or tartar. If left on your teeth these deposits cause inflammation of your gum tissues and can lead to infection, abscesses, and even tooth loss. During a professional cleaning a technique called scaling removes these substances. For more advanced forms of gum disease, root planing is used to remove deposits of calculus below the gum line.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about oral hygiene. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Hygiene Behavior.”


By Drake Tollefson DDS
August 14, 2011
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   oral cancer  

Often perceived as a cancer that only affects older adults who have a history of heavy tobacco and alcohol use, oral cancer is now on the rise among younger adults as well. New research has found a link between oral cancers, and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a disease that is primarily spread through oral sex.

Importance of Screening: If you're concerned about oral cancer, rest assured that our office routinely carries out a cancer screening exam on every patient. We have several ways to painlessly detect abnormal tissues in their earliest stages. In addition, please contact our office if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • White and/or red patches in the mouth or on the lips
  • A bleeding or ulcerated sore in the mouth
  • A sore anywhere in your mouth that doesn't heal
  • Persistent difficulty swallowing, chewing, speaking, or moving your jaw or tongue

Although all of these symptoms can also be signs of less serious problems, be sure to alert our office if you notice any of the above changes.

Prevention: you can take a proactive role in preventing oral cancer by:

  • Conducting an oral self-exam at least once a month. Use a bright light and a mirror, look and feel your lips and front of your gums, the roof of your mouth, and the lining of your cheeks.
  • Scheduling regular exams in our office. The American Cancer Society recommends oral cancer screening exams every three years for people over age 20 and annually for those over age 40.
  • Refraining from smoking or using any tobacco products and drinking alcohol only in moderation.
  • Eating a well balanced diet.
  • Practicing safe sex.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss any questions you may have regarding oral cancer. Read more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Risk Factors for Oral Cancer.”